The changes are meant to respond to the concerns of businesses like TBM Service Group, whose CEO, Val Ramanand, wrote about the organization’s challenges in a recent article in the Financial Post.
Ramanand’s cleaning company has job openings that “have been advertised widely across Canada but have gone unfilled.”
Meanwhile, there are workers from El Salvador ready and willing to take the jobs.
TBM Service Group has always treated such temporary foreign workers respectfully:
“We help them find housing and provide a two-year work permit, English-as-a-second-language courses, and a starting wage of $16.50 an hour on a full-time schedule, $1.50 higher than minimum wage.
We pay all our new workers’ travel costs and fees and sign a Spanish-language contract with them approved by El Salvador’s labour ministry. This contract outlines their rights as employees in Canada.”
Still, Ramanand identifies two problems.
For one, Ottawa has traditionally limited temporary foreign workers at companies like TBM to 10% of the total workforce, and TBM needs “to be able to fill 30% of our jobs with migrant workers to meet our capacity and focus on growth.”
Second, when the temporary visas expire, the workers have to return home and TBM must restart the recruitment process from scratch.
Ramanand would prefer that Ottawa “offer more of these workers a path to permanent residency while they are here, rather than forcing them to return home to reapply.”
Qualtrough has now relaxed a number of rules on the hiring of temporary foreign workers, which should meet Ramanand’s first concern. (She has also pledged to increase the scrutiny applied to employers of such workers to discourage exploitation.)
I haven’t seen evidence to indicate that she is doing much about the second issue.
Although I understand the minister’s action from a political point of view – the economy is operating at full employment, the jobs need to be filled immediately, and there aren’t enough willing Canadians to do them – it seems to me that her solution addresses the wrong problem.
As Ramanand concedes at the end of his article, the real issue facing his company is that “There is a shortage of labour for these jobs in Canada at current wages.”
If you believe in a market-based economy, if a company can’t hire enough employees at “current wages” for jobs that clearly aren’t temporary – if they were, Ramanand’s complaint about the need to replace the workers who must return home when their visas expire would be moot – then the company should improve its compensation package.
If doing so isn’t economically feasible, then there is a problem with the business plan.
Allowing companies to hire workers from other countries at wages that Canadians apparently (based on their unwillingness to take the jobs) consider exploitative, and then denying them a path to citizenship, is shameful.
It also discourages these individuals – some of whom might eventually find another way to immigrate permanently – from integrating into Canadian society while they are here.
Far better, and in keeping with the prime minister’s claim that “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” would be to offer anyone who is hired into a fulltime position a transparent path to permanent residence.
What’s puzzling to me is that the government seems to recognize that an excess of temporary foreign workers is a bad idea.
Qualtrough’s press release notes that, with the new changes, such workers, which “made up less than 0.4% of the Canadian workforce [in 2020] … will continue to make up a small percentage of our workforce.”
So if you know that the temporary foreign workers program is a problem, and you’re planning massive increases to immigration anyways, why make such workers temporary at all?
For one of many criticisms of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, see this older study from the CD Howe Institute. For something more academicky, try this article by Vivianne Landry et al.
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